FA Recap: NFC West

Don't tell anyone the sun sets in the NFC West as this division has had a flurry of moves in free agency so far which Kevin Connaghan updates you on ...

| 2 years ago

FA Recap: NFC West

As free agency starts to slow down, it’s time to take inventory of last week’s craziness. The moves were fast and furious (and perhaps a bit premature), as a few teams were extremely aggressive in pursuit of turning around their fortunes while others took to free agency with constraint. Here’s a look at where we stand after a week of free agency:

Arizona Cardinals

FA-Recap-iupatiKey Losses:
CB Antonio Cromartie
DI Dan Williams
DI Darnell Dockett
DI Tommy Kelly
C Lyle Sendlein
LB Larry Foote
OG Paul Fanaika
ED Sam Acho
TE Rob Housler

Key Re-Signings:
LS Mike Leach
DI Alameda Ta’amu

Key Additions:
OG Mike Iupati
DI Corey Peters
DI Cory Redding
C A.Q. Shipley
LB Sean Weatherspoon
ED Lamarr Woodley

After hobbling to the conclusion of an otherwise fine season, the Arizona Cardinals have used free agency to address two specific areas; rebuilding an offensive line that struggled in 2014, and reinvigorating a veteran-heavy defense.

The Cardinals got solid play from the tackle positions, Jared Veldheer (+16.5) and Bobby Massie (-4.0), both of whom return. However, they really struggled inside which had a detrimental effect on the running game. The departed are Lyle Sendlein (-29.1) and Paul Fanaika (-20.9), and the arriving includes road-grading guard Mike Iupati (+11.2) and center A.Q. Shipley (+5.7); a marked upgrade. Add in injury-plagued 2013 first-rounder Jonathan Cooper at guard, and the interior of the line will be unrecognizable.

In 2014, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles got a lot of mileage out of veterans. Bowles is now with the Jets and many of those veterans are gone. In their place, the Cardinals have signed ends Corey Peters and Cory Redding, edge rusher Lamarr Woodley and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

Over the last two seasons, Peters has developed into a solid run-stopping defensive lineman, he played tackle in Atlanta but lacks the girth of a natural nose tackle and should be part of the rotation at end on early downs. Redding is a very experienced 5-technique, he finished 12th at the position with a +8.5 pass rush grade in 2014, and should see plenty of time in that role for the Cardinals. Woodley flopped in Oakland, but was generally productive during his seven-year stint in Pittsburgh and there are plenty of similarities expected with this defensive scheme.

With Larry Foote moving to a coaching role, the enigmatic Weatherspoon should compete for playing time with Kevin Minter as Foote’s replacement, so long as he can stay fit. Weatherspoon remains athletically gifted, but has struggled to translate that talent into consistent performance, he followed a terrific +18.6 season in 2011 with -0.7 and -8.3 efforts.

They have managed to adequately replace or upgrade most of those who have left, apart from corner Antonio Cromartie and nose tackle Dan Williams. They will likely look to the current roster for the 2015 starters, but could stand to add depth at both spots.

St. Louis Rams

FA-Recap-fairleyKey Losses:
QB Sam Bradford
OT Joseph Barksdale
C Scott Wells
OG Davin Joseph
DI Kendall Langford
OT Jake Long
QB Shaun Hill

Key Re-Signings:
WR Kenny Britt
TE Lance Kendricks

Key Additions:
DT Nick Fairley
QB Nick Foles
ED Akeem Ayers
OT Garrett Reynolds
QB Case Keenum

Much like the Cardinals above, the St. Louis Rams are making sweeping changes to their offensive line, however unlike the Cardinals, it’s not yet clear who the new starters will be. Of the nine lineman to play in 2014, only three are currently set to return, and one of them (Barrett Jones) saw just 23 snaps last season. Some of those end-of-contract players may yet wind up back in St. Louis, with right tackle Joseph Barksdale (-5.9) the most appealing, however, the only reinforcement added to date is former Lion Garrett Reynolds. Reynolds has experience at both right guard and right tackle and had a +3.0 grade in 15 appearances (10 starts) for the Lions in 2013.

Whatever the line’s final composition, there will be a new quarterback behind it, with Nick Foles joining the Rams thanks to the trade that sent Sam Bradford to Philadelphia. Foles is a considerably cheaper option than Bradford, but he may not be better. In 2013 fortune shone on Foles as defenses appeared disinclined to take advantage of his mistakes, but he still finished with a solid +11.2 passing grade, and it takes more than luck to do that. However that one good season was sandwiched between two bad ones, with his -7.0 passing grade in 2012 and his -7.9 passing grade in 2014.

The Rams have swapped Kendall Langord for Nick Fairley at defensive tackle, and with all due respect to the solid Langford, that is a considerable upgrade. Fairley’s 2014 season was cut short by injury after eight games, yet he still finished 15th among all DTs with a +8.1 pass rushing grade, and had a 10.0 Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) score that would have led all starting tackles at the end of the season if he’d played enough snaps. Along with Aaron Donald, Fairley gives the Rams a fearsome interior pass rushing unit. The Rams have also added Akeem Ayers, a situational pass rusher who finished 10th among rush linebackers in 2014 with an 11.1 PRP score.

San Francisco 49ers

FA-Recap-tsmithKey Losses:
LB Patrick Willis
OG Mike Iupati
LB Chris Borland
CB Chris Culliver
CB Perrish Cox
WR Michael Crabtree
HB Frank Gore
ED Dan Skuta
WR Brandon Lloyd
WR Stevie Johnson

Key Re-Signings:
QB Blaine Gabbert

Key Additions:
WR Torrey Smith
CB Shareece Wright
OG Erik Pears
DI Darnell Dockett
HB Reggie Bush

It’s been a strangely traumatic offseason in San Francisco as Jim Harbaugh departed after 49 wins in four seasons. Jim Tomsula takes over and has had to watch as a succession of talented players head for the exit door. General Manager Trent Baalke has been lauded for his ability to build a roster through the draft, now is the time for his two most recent classes to step up.

The most dramatic changes come on the defensive side. There was surprise when terrific inside linebacker Patrick Willis announced his retirement, but that was trumped when Chris Borland, the heir apparent, did the same. It doesn’t leave the cupboard bare at inside linebacker, they still have the equally outstanding Navarro Bowman, but no team can expect to lose two talented players at the same position without it hurting them on the field.

The 49ers also lose two starting corners with Chris Culliver (+8.2 in coverage) and Perrish Cox (-0.6) hiving signed elsewhere. Tramaine Brock missed much of 2014 through injury but had a +10.6 coverage grade in 2013 and opposite him will be either ex-Charger Shareece Wright (-16.4) or Dontae Johnson (-3.1). The experienced Darnell Dockett should feature in the rotation at defensive end — he’s a capable interior pass rusher but missed the entire of 2014 through injury.

There have been a few changes on offense. Running back Frank Gore is gone, Carlos Hyde will be expected to step up as the starter with new addition Reggie Bush complementing him. They lose a trio of contributing receivers but add an inconsistent deep threat in Torrey Smith. However, the biggest loss on the offense is undoubtedly powerful guard Mike Iupati.

Always questionable as a pass protector (-7.5), Iupati was a potent force in the run game (+18.5) and will not be easily replaced. It seems unlikely that Erik Pears will step into that role. Pears has been in the league a long time, mostly as a right tackle where he’s had some decent seasons, but it’s likely that the team will look to second-year player Brandon Thomas at left guard.

Seattle Seahawks

FA-Recap-grahamKey Losses:
CB Byron Maxwell
C Max Unger
G James Carpenter
DI Kevin Williams
LB Malcolm Smith

Key Additions:
TE Jimmy Graham
CB Cary Williams
DI Ahtyba Rubin
CB Will Blackmon

There’s an immutable rule in the NFL, stating that the other 30 teams must covet the players from the two Super Bowl rosters. The Seahawks have been to the last two Super Bowls, yet have suffered surprisingly little turnover this offseason.

Of those who have left, the only one they might have preferred to keep hold of is cornerback Byron Maxwell. Maxwell possesses the size and physical style that the Seahawks prefer and has held up well enough since slipping into the lineup during the 2013 season. He landed himself a big-money deal and, in a twist of fate, one of the men he replaced, Cary Williams, takes his old spot in Seattle.

Williams was fairly average in 2014, finishing the year with a +0.9 coverage grade and holding opposing receivers to a useful 56.6% catch rate. Williams has the length and physicality to fit the scheme, now he needs to prove he can cope with the sheer volume of passes that will come his way, the cost of lining up across from Richard Sherman.

The Seahawks have added two other defensive free agents, corner Will Blackmon who is unlikely to be more than a depth option, and nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin. The Seahawks struggled against the run after injury forced Brendan Mebane onto Injured Reserve in 2014. Rubin hasn’t always been the stoutest of nose tackles, but he has graded positively as a run stopper in four of his seven seasons and may prove useful in a backup role.

Tight end Jimmy Graham was the Seahawks’ big offseason acquisition and immediately gives Russell Wilson the elite target he’s lacked. Graham didn’t have a vintage season in 2014, but led all tight ends as a receiver in 2013 with a +18.2 grade, while also finishing second with 2.26 Yards Per Route Run. Although nominally a tight end, Graham is at his most dangerous when split out, either in the slot (from where he scored four of his touchdowns in 2014) or out wide (from where he scored the other six).

The Seahawks need to find two new starters on the offensive line, but have a more potent offense thanks to Graham. There is little reason to expect a regression in 2015.


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| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

  • FishersMustache

    As a Bradford apologist for many years, I find the argument that his ceiling is higher than Foles to be pretty ridiculous. In a vacuum, maybe, but I’d be skeptical of any professional athlete coming off two consecutive ACL injuries to come back into a high pressure role and play BETTER THAN HE EVER HAS. The hit that tore his ACL the 2nd time wasn’t particularly viscious, it just couldn’t handle the weight of a DL, ya know, sort of a minimum criteria for being a QB.

    Consider me one of those people who doesn’t swear fealty to Chip Kelly and his “system.” While I do believe that the coaches in STL didn’t organize or maintain a stable offense that fit Bradford’s style (more uptempo, more spread, less Schottenheimer), I think asking him to throw the ball over 30 times a game is asking for trouble and I sort of can’t wait to see how pedestrian the Kelly system really is.

    • eYeDEF

      All he has to do is stay healthy to “play BETTER THAN HE EVER HAS”. If he can survive the season he’ll have played better. If he can’t he won’t. It might be that won’t play better, but that’s only because he got injured and once again couldn’t play out the season.

      • Tim Edell


  • Sam

    Is Torrey Smith really an inconsistent deep threat? I feel like he is always a deep threat, and deep threat WRs may be viewed as inconsistent because of comp %.

  • Realninerfan87

    49ers will go 3-13 while the Rams are going 10-6 Book IT

    • Chris

      Buc Fan97
      2 days ago
      Bucs will go 11-5 Book IT

      • Realninerfan87

        Well that’s joke the Buccaneers realistically will go 6-10 so yeah

  • Guest

    Eric Pears? That’s out of left field.

    The 49ers have Thomas, a potential 1st rounder hurt during a pre-draft workout, who was drafted last year to replace Iupati. In many technical respects he is/was a better prospect that Iupati who relied on brute strength in a second-rate conference to dominate.

    So replacing Iupati may not be as difficult as one thinks. Especially as the NFL is a passing league and Iupati sucked at pass-blocking.

    • Bill Doerr

      Dude LG Mike Iupati was a beast in pass protection as well and an absolute force as a run blocking MAULER !!!!!!! He struggled a bit last year because he played on and threw a broken foot for almost all of last year !!!!!! Iupati did much better when blocking for Alex Smith because he is a pocket QB whereas Kaep would get scared pull the ball down n run everywhere…….

      Now that LGMike Iupati has a pocket QB with a quick realease and Iupati himself is 100% , he will be back to playing at an elite level ………LG Mike Iupai is an ELite LG & All-Pro 3X PRO BOWLER!!!!!!Massive upgrade at LG for AZ

      As for Brandon Thomas …. He sucks. SF is screwed because he has no power element to his game that’s a big knock on him , as are the following: Power element missing. Limited hip snap — not a road-grading mauler. Susceptible to bull rush when he sets tall. Could stand to improve lateral slide and inside punch to shut down strong inside moves. Inconsistent second-level sustain

      . He is weak!!!!!!! Here is his draft profile.